The auction house where Mouseman sits alongside Ikea
Last updated Mar 28, 2024
Thompson's Auctioneers auction house in Killinghall
The saleroom at Thompson's Auctioneers in Killinghall.

For some of us, auction houses are regarded as niche and expensive, the kind of places you might look for a unique piece of vintage jewellery, antique furniture or a collector’s item. 

But what is perhaps less well known is that alongside these higher-end auctioneers are auction houses that offer more affordable and everyday pieces.

Thompson’s Auctioneers in Killinghall is one such place. While the odd piece of furniture goes for over £1,000 – and a sideboard 12 years ago went for £8,000 – the average is about £80 to £100. Well-known names such as Mouseman and Ercol pop up now and again, but the saleroom is largely made up of reasonably-priced furniture, household and garden items, and gold and silver jewellery.

Lots in Thompson’s auctions, held every Friday, usually carry estimates of between £20 and £800. 

And not all of it is vintage or antique. Ikea rugs and Emma Bridgewater bowls sit alongside Victorian necklaces and 1960s drop leaf tables. There are collections and trays of assorted jewellery, glassware and coins, and even some white goods. Each weekly sale opens up a new Aladdin’s Cave, and you never know what you might find there. 

Ercol and Vanson

It’s this element of discovery that is one of the things Thompson’s director Kate Higgins loves about her job. As well as leading the auctions, she spends her week sifting through items at house clearances and valuations. She said: 

“It’s exciting. I love it, I like going to look at a job. I’ve been to house clearances where you can barely get through the front door and you have to go through all of it but it’s worth it because of what you might come across.” 

Among the pieces that Kate occasionally finds and sells are pieces by the famous Kilburn furniture maker Robert ‘Mouseman’ Thompson and the ‘Yorkshire Critters’ group of makers who were inspired by him. A Beaverman oak table and six chairs went for £1,500 a couple of weeks ago, while a Mouseman ashtray and set of nested tables was in the most recent sale. Kate said:  

“They are quite desirable. We get quite a lot of 1960s teak furniture which is very popular. People are paying decent prices for that. We’ve had a nice Ercol blond elm table and four chairs for £380 and a Vanson teak sideboard for £300.” 

Changing times

The auction house was started in 1989 by Brian Thompson. Kate has been at Thompson’s for 25 years and when Brian retired in 2012, she and another employee, Colin Evans, bought the business. Kate had started doing the auctions a few years before after remarking to Brian how easy it looked, to which he had answered, ‘Get up and do it then.’ She did, and found she loved it. 

Thompson's Auctioneers auction house in Killinghall

Kate Higgins, director of Thompson’s Auctioneers.

But times have changed. Since Thompson’s were forced to take their auctions online during the pandemic and it’s stayed that way, Kate now finds herself leading the sale by “staring at a computer and talking to myself. It’s not quite the same but you have to move with the times”.

But she recognises the benefits that being online brings in reaching a wider audience and enabling more lots to be sold. Each week, about 500 lots are listed in the auction, and it takes around four hours to get through them all. Bids can come from far and wide, and items are shipped anywhere as long as the customer pays for the costs. Kate said: 

“Ninety-nine percent of people have been absolutely fine with us being totally online, even the older generation. There’s still the chance for buyers to view the lots between 3pm and 7pm on Thursdays, and people can drop off and collect items on Saturdays and Mondays. But most people are happy to buy from the website without viewing the piece in person. 

“We were shut for a year during the pandemic, and it took a while to get going again. We are actually selling more now than we were pre-covid. We are so busy that we are looking for more staff to help collect furniture – there’s currently a four-week waiting time for us to collect items from sellers.” 

Period drama props

Among their customers are regulars that come in for a browse every week, while others visit for specific items. She’s seen an increase in customers looking for affordable household goods while others are after a little project. They even have two or three TV companies looking for authentic props to use in period dramas. 

While the trend for ‘shabby chic’ has died down and people are no longer looking for cheap furniture to paint, original pieces that can be restored and reupholstered are in demand. Kate said people will go away and research items and are happy to buy them with faults such as woodworm or damage if it’s the kind of thing they are looking for. And the popularity of items can also change as fashions come and go. She said: 

“At the moment antiques are not very popular because nobody wants dark mahogany anymore, they want the lighter colours such as beech, ash and elm. Years ago, people would collect pieces of crockery and display them in cabinets but they don’t do that any more. People are buying second-hand furniture and watching what they spend.”

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